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   Chapter 18 No.18

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 27280

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Jaffery caught sight of her at the same time and gripped my arm. Her eyes travelling from mine to his flashed indignant anger. Then she turned haughtily. We tried to edge nearer her, but she was just beyond the convergence of two side currents which pushed us even further away. The gangway was fixed and the movement of the conglomerate mass began. Presently Jaffery again seized my arm.

"There's the brute waiting for her."

And there on the quay, with a flower in his buttonhole and a smile on his fat face, stood Mr. Ras Fendihook. He met her at the foot of the gangway, and obviously told at once of our presence, sought us anxiously with his gaze; then with an air of bravado waved his hat-a hard white felt-and cried out: "Cheer O!" We did not respond. He grinned at us and linking his arm through Liosha's joined the stream of passengers hurrying across the stones to the custom-sheds.

"Stop," Jaffery roared.

They turned, as indeed did everybody within earshot. Fendihook would have gone on, but Liosha very proudly drew him out of the stream into a clear space and, prepared for battle, awaited us. When we had struggled our slow way down and reached the quay she advanced a few steps looking very terrible in her wrath.

"How dare you follow me?"

"Come further away from the crowd," said Jaffery, and with an imperious gesture he swept the three of us along the quay to the stern of the boat, where only a few idle sailor men were lounging, and a sergeant de ville was pacing on his leisurely beat.

"I said you would make a fool of yourself one of these days if I didn't play dragon," he said, at a sudden halt. "I've come to play dragon with a vengeance." He marched on Fendihook. "Now you."

"How d'ye do, old cock? Didn't expect you here," he said jauntily.

"Don't be insolent," replied Jaffery in a remarkably quiet tone. "You know very well why I'm here."

"Jaff Chayne-" Liosha began.

He waved her off. "Take her away, Hilary."

"Come," said I. "I'll tell you all about it."

"He has got to tell me, not you."

"I certainly don't know why the devil you're here," said Fendihook, with sudden nastiness.

"I've come to save this lady from a dirty blackguard."

"How are you going to do it?"

Jaffery addressed Liosha. "You said in your letter-"

"You wrote to him, you crazy fool, after all my instructions?" snarled Fendihook.

"You said in your letter you were going to marry this man."

"Sure," said Liosha.

"And are you going to marry this lady?"

"Certainly."

"Why didn't you marry her in England?"

"I told you in my letter," said Liosha. "See here-we don't want any of your interference." And she planted herself by the side of her abductor, glaring defiance at Jaffery.

Jaffery smiled. "You told her that because she was a widow and an Albanian she would find considerable obstacles in her way and would forfeit half her money to the Government. You lying little skunk!"

The vibration in Jaffery's voice arrested Liosha. She looked swiftly at Fendihook.

"Wasn't it true what you told me?"

"Of course not," I interposed. "You were as free to marry in England as Mrs. Considine."

She paid no attention to me.

"Wasn't it true?" she repeated.

Fendihook laughed in vulgar bluster. "You didn't take all that rot seriously, you silly cuckoo?"

Liosha drew a step away from him and regarded him wonderingly. For the first time doubt as to his straight-dealing rose in her candid mind.

"She did," said Jaffery. "She also took seriously your promise to marry her in France."

"Well, ain't I going to marry her?"

"No," said Jaffery. "You can't."

"Who says I can't?"

"I do. You've got a wife already and three children."

"I've divorced her."

"You haven't. You've deserted her, which isn't the same thing. I've found out all about you. You shouldn't be such a famous character."

Liosha stood speechless, for a moment, quivering all over, her eyes burning.

"He's married already-" she gasped.

"Certainly. He decoyed you here just to seduce you."

Liosha made a sudden spring, like a tigress, and had it not been for Jaffery's intervening boom of an arm, her hands would have been round Fendihook's throat.

"Steady on," growled Jaffery, controlling her with his iron strength. Fendihook, who had started back with an oath, grew as white as a sheet. I tapped him on the arm.

"You had better hook it," said I. "And keep out of her way if you don't want a knife stuck into you. Yes," I added, meeting a scared look, "you've been playing with the wrong kind of woman. You had better stick to the sort you're accustomed to."

"Thank you for those kind words," said he. "I will."

"It would be wise also to keep out of the way of Jaffery Chayne. With my own eyes I've seen him pick up a man he didn't like and"-I made an expressive gesture-"throw him clean away."

"Right O!" said he.

He nodded, winked impudently and walked away. A thought struck me. I overtook him.

"Where are you staying in Havre?"

He looked at me suspiciously. "What do you want to know for?"

"To save you from being murdered, as you would most certainly be if we chanced upon the same hotel."

"I'm staying at the Phares-the swagger one on the beach near the Casino."

"Excellent," said I. "Go on swaggering. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, old pal," said he.

He tilted his white hat to a rakish angle and marched away.

I rejoined Jaffery and Liosha. He still held her wrists; but she stood unresisting, tense and rigid, with averted head, looking sidewise down. Her lip quivered, her bosom heaved. Jaffery had mastered her fury, but now we had to deal with her shame and humiliation.

"Let her go!" I whispered.

Jaffery freed her. She rubbed her wrists mechanically, without moving her head. I wished Barbara had been there; she would have known exactly what to do. As it was, we stood by her, somewhat helplessly.

"Monsieur," said a voice close by, and we saw our little blue-bloused porter. He explained that he had been seeking us everywhere. If we did not make haste we would lose the Paris train.

I replied that as we were not going to Paris, we were not pressed for time; but this little outside happening broke the situation.

"Better give this fellow your luggage ticket, Liosha," said Jaffery.

She looked about her bewildered and then I noticed on the ground a leather satchel which she had been carrying. I picked it up. She extracted the ticket and we all went to the custom-house.

"What's the programme now?" I asked Jaffery.

"Hotel," said he. "This poor girl will want a rest. Besides, we'll have to stay the night."

"Our friend is staying at the Hotel des Phares."

"Then we'll go to Tortoni's."

An ordinary woman would have drawn down the motor veil which she wore cockled-up on her travelling hat; but Liosha, grandly unconcerned with such vanities, showed her young shame-stricken face to all the world. I felt intensely sorry for her. She realised now from what a blatant scoundrel she had been saved; but she still bitterly resented our intervention. "I felt as if I was stripped naked walking between them"-that was her primitive account later of her state of mind.

"Barbara," said I, "sent you her very dear love."

She nodded, without looking at me.

"Barbara would have come too, if Susan had not been ill."

She gave a little start. I thought she was about to speak; but she remained silent. We entered the customs-shed, when she attended mechanically to her declarations.

On emerging free into the open air again, we found that the cheery sun had pierced the morning clouds and gave promise of a glorious day. The luggage was piled on the hotel omnibus. We took an open cab and rattled through the narrow flag-paved streets of the harbour quarter of the town. As we emerged into a more spacious thoroughfare, suddenly from a gaudy column at the corner flared the name of Ras Fendihook. I caught the heading of the affiche: "Music-Hall-Eldorado." Part of the mystery was solved. Jaffery had been right in his deduction that he had left London on a professional engagement; but we had not thought of an engagement out of England. I had a correct answer now to my question: "Why Havre of all places?" Jaffery sitting with Liosha on the back seat of the victoria saw it too and we exchanged glances. But Liosha had eyes for nothing save her hands tightly clasped in her lap. We passed another column before we entered the Place Gambetta, where already at that early hour, above its wide terrace, the striped awning of Tortoni's was flung. We alighted at the hotel and ordered our three rooms; coffee and roll to be taken up to madame; we men would eat our petit déjeuner downstairs. Liosha left us without saying a word.

Bathed, shaved, changed, refreshed by the good café au lait, gladdened by the sunshine and smugly satisfied with our morning's work, quite a different Hilary Freeth sat with Jaffery on the terrace from the sleepless wreck he had awakened two hours before. My urbane dismissal of Ras Fendihook lingered suave in my memory. The glow of conscious heroism warmed me, even like last night's dinner, to sympathy with my kind. After despatching, by the chasseur, a long telegram to Barbara, and sending up to Liosha's room a bunch of red roses we bought at a florist's hard by, I surrendered myself idly to the contemplation of the matutinal Sunday life of provincial France, while Jaffery smoked his pipe and uttered staccato maledictions on Mr. Ras Fendihook.

I love provincial France. It is narrow, it is bourgeois, it is regarding of its sous, it is what you will. But it lives a spacious, out-of-door, corporate life. On Sundays, it does not bury itself, like provincial England, in a cellular house. It walks abroad. It indulges in its modest pleasures. It is serious, it is intensely conscious of family, but it can take deep breaths of freedom. It is not Sundayfied into our vacuous boredom. It clings to the picturesque, in which it finds its dignified delight. The little soldier clad in blue tunic and red trousers struts along with his fiancée or ma?tresse on his arm; the cuirassier swaggers by in brass helmet and horsehair plume; the cavalry officer, dapper in light blue, with his pretty wife, drinks syrup at a neighbouring table in your café. The work-girls, even on Sunday, go about bareheaded, as though they were at home in the friendly street. The curé in shovel hat and cassock; the workmen for whom Sunday happens not to be the jour de repos hebdomadaire ordained by law, in their blue sarreau; the peasants from outlying villages-the men in queer shell-jackets with a complication of buttons, the women in dazzling white caps astonishingly gauffered; the lawyer in decent black, with his white cambric tie; the fat and greasy citizen with fat and greasy wife and prim, pig-tailed little daughter clad in an exiguous cotton frock of loud and unauthentic tartan, and showing a quarter of an inch of sock above high yellow boots; the superb pair of gendarmes with their cocked hats, wooden epaulettes and swords; the white-aproned waiters standing by café tables-all these types are distinct, picked out pleasurably by the eye; they give a cheery sense of variety; the stage is dressed.

So when Jaffery asked me what in the world we were going to do all day, I replied:

"Sit here."

"Don't you want to see the place?"

"The place," said I, "is parading before us."

"We might hire a car and run over to Etretat."

"There's Liosha," I objected. "We can't leave her alone and she's not in a mood for jaunts."

"She won't leave her room to-day, poor girl. It must be awful for her. Oh, that swine of a blighter!"

His wrath exploded again over the iniquitous Fendihook. For the dozenth time we went over the story.

"What on earth are we going to do with her?" he asked. "She can't go back to the boarding-house."

"For the time being, at any rate, I'll take her down to Barbara."

"Barbara's a wonder," said he fervently. "And do you know, Hilary, there's the makings of a devilish fine woman in Liosha, if one only knew the right way to take her."

The right way, I think, was known to me, but I did not reveal it. I assented to Jaffery's proposition.

"She has a vile temper and the mind and facile passions of a Spanish gipsy, but she has stunning qualities. She's the soul of truth and honour and as straight as a die. And brave. This has been a nasty knock for her; but I don't mind betting you that as soon as she has pulled herself together she'll treat the thing quite in a big way."

And as if to prove his assertion, who should come sailing towards us past the long line of empty tables but Liosha herself. Another woman would have lain weeping on her bed and one of us would have had to soothe her and sympathise with her, and coax her to eat and cajole her into revisiting the light of day. Not so Liosha. She arrayed herself in fresh, fawn-coloured coat and skirt, fitting close to her splendid figure, which she held erect, a smart hat with a feather, and new white gloves, and came to us the incarnation of summer, clear-eyed as the morning, our roses pinned in her corsage. Of course she was pale and her lips were not quite under control, but she made a valiant show.

We arose as she approached, but she motioned us back to our chairs.

"Don't get up. I guess I'll join you."

We drew up a chair and she seated herself between us. Then she looked steadily and unsmilingly from one to the other.

"I want to thank you two. I've been a damn fool."

"Well, old girl," s

aid Jaffery kindly, "I must own you've been rather indiscreet."

"I've been a damn fool," she repeated.

"Anyhow it's over now. Thank goodness," said I. "Did you eat your breakfast?"

She made a little wry face. No, she could not touch it. What would she have now? I sent a waiter for café-au-lait and a brioche and lectured her on the folly of going without proper sustenance. The ghost of a smile crept into her eyes, in recognition, I suppose, of the hedonism with which I am wrongly credited by my friends. Then she thanked us for the roses. They were big, like her, she said. The waiter set out the little tray and the verseur poured out the coffee and milk. We watched her eat and drink. Having finished she said she felt better.

"You've got some sense, Hilary," she admitted.

"Tell me," said Jaffery. "How did we come to miss you on the boat? We watched the London trains carefully."

"I came from Southsea about an hour before the boat started and went to bed at once."

"Southsea? Why, we were there all the evening," said I. "What were you doing at Southsea?"

"Staying with Emma-Mrs. Jupp. The General lives there. I couldn't stick that boarding-house by myself any longer so I wrote to Emma to ask her to put me up."

"So that's why you went on Thursday?"

"That's why."

"Pardon me if I'm inquisitive," said I, "but did you take Mrs. Considine-I mean Mrs. Jupp-into your confidence?"

"Lord no! She's not my dragon any longer. She knew I was going to Havre-to meet friends. Of course I had to tell her that. But Jaff Chayne was the only person that had to know the truth."

We questioned her as delicately as we could and gradually the intrigue that had puzzled us became clear. Ras Fendihook left London on Sunday for a fortnight's engagement at the Eldorado of Havre. As there was no Sunday night boat for Southampton he had to travel to Havre via Paris. Being a crafty villain, he would not run away with Liosha straight from London. She was to join him a week later, after he had had time to spy out the land and make his nefarious schemes for a mock marriage. His fortnight up, he was sailing away again to America. Liosha was to accompany him. In all probability, for I delight in thinking the worst of Mr. Ras Fendihook, he would have found occasion, towards the end of his tour, of sending her on a fool's errand, say, to Texas, while he worked his way to New York, where he would have an unembarrassed voyage back to England, leaving Liosha floundering helplessly in the railway network of the United States. I have made it my business to enquire into the ways of this entertaining but unholy villain. This is what I am sure he would have done. One girl some half dozen years before he had left penniless in San Francisco and the door over which burns the Red Lamp swallowed her up forever.

For the present, however, Liosha was to join him in Havre. Not a soul must know. He gave sordid instructions as to secrecy. As Jaffery had guessed, he had instigated the comic destination of Westminster Abbey. Although her open nature abhorred the deception, she obeyed his instructions in minor details and thought she was acting in the spirit of the intrigue when she enclosed the letters to Mrs. Jardine to be posted in London. By risking discovery of her secret during her visit to the admirable lady at Southsea and by ingenuously disclosing the plot to Jaffery she showed herself to be a very sorry conspirator.

She spoke so quietly and bravely that we had not the heart to touch upon the sentimental side of her adventure. As we could not stay in Havre all day at the risk of meeting Mr. Ras Fendihook, who might swagger into the town from his swagger hotel on the plage, we carried out Jaffery's proposal, hired an automobile and drove to Etretat. We came straight from inland into the tiny place, so coquettish in its mingling of fisher-folk and fashion, so cut off from the coast world by the jagged needle gates jutting out on each side of the small bay and by the sudden grass-grown bluff rising above them, so cleanly sparkling in the sunshine, and for the first time Liosha's face brightened. She drew a deep breath.

"Oh, let us all come and live here."

We laughed and wandered among the tarred, up-turned boats wherein the fishermen store their tackle and along the pebbly beach where a few belated bathers bobbed about in the water and up the curious steps to the terrace and listened to the last number of the orchestra. Then lunch at the clean, old-fashioned Hotel Blanquet among the fishing boats; and afterwards coffee and liqueurs in the little shady courtyard. Jaffery was very gentle with Liosha, treating her tenderly like a bruised thing, and talked of his adventures and cracked little jokes and attended solicitously to her wants. Several times I saw her raise her eyes in shy gratitude, and now and then she laughed. Her healthy youth also enabled her to make an excellent meal, and after it she smoked cigarettes and sipped crême de menthe with frank gusto. To me she appeared like a naughty child who instead of meeting with expected punishment finds itself coddled in affectionate arms. All resentment had died away. Unreservedly she had laid herself as a "damn fool" at our feet-or rather at Jaffery's feet, for I did not count for much. Instead of blundering over her and tugging her up and otherwise exacerbating her wounds, he lifted her with tactful kindness to her self-respect. For the first time, save when Susan was the connecting-link, he entered into a spiritual relation with Liosha. She fulfilled his prophecy-she was dealing with a soul-shrivelling situation in a big way. He admired her immensely, as his great robust nature admired immense things. At the same time he realised all in her that was sore and grievously throbbing and needed the delicate touch. I shall never forget those few hours.

To dream away a summer's afternoon had no place, however, in Jaffery's category of delights. He must be up and doing. I have threatened on many restless occasions to rig up at Northlands a gigantic wheel for his benefit similar to that in which Susan's white mice take futile exercise. If there was such a wheel he must, I am sure, get in and whirl it round; just as if there is a boat he must row it, or tree to be felled he must fell it, or a hill to be climbed he must climb it. At Etretat, as it happens, there are two hills. He stretched forth his hand to one, of course the highest, crowned by the fishermen's chapel and ordained an ascent. Liosha was in the chastened mood in which she would have dived with him to the depths of the English Channel. I, with grudging meekness and a prayer for another five minutes devoted to the deglutition of another liqueur brandy, acquiesced.

It was not such an arduous climb after all. A light breeze tempered the fury of the July sun. The grass was crisp and agreeable to the feet. The smell of wild thyme mingling with the salt of the low-tide seaweed conveyed stimulating fragrance. When we reached the top and Jaffery suggested that we should lie down, I protested. Why not walk along the edge of the inspiring cliffs?

"It's all very well for you, who've slept like a log all night," said he throwing his huge bulk on the ground, "but Liosha and I need rest."

Liosha stood glowing on the hilltop and panting a little after the quick ascent. A little curly strand on her forehead played charmingly in the wind which blew her skirts close around her in fine modelling. I thought of the Winged Victory.

"I'm not a bit tired," she said.

But seeing Jaffery definitely prone with his bearded chin on his fists, she glanced at me as though she should say: "Who are we to go contrary to his desires?" and settled down beside him.

So I stretched myself, too, on the grass and we watched the dancing sea and the flashing sails of fishing boats and the long plume from a steamer in the offing and the little town beneath us and the tiny golfers on the cliff on the other side of the bay, and were in fact giving ourselves up to an idyllic afternoon, when suddenly Liosha broke the spell.

"If I had got hold of that man this morning I think I would have killed him."

Since leaving Havre we had not referred to unhappy things.

"It would have served him right," said Jaffery.

"I did strike him once."

"Oh?" said I.

"Yes." She looked out to sea. There was a pause. I longed to hear the details of the scene, which could not have lacked humorous elements. But she left them to my imagination. "After that," she continued, "he saw I was an honest woman and talked about marriage."

Jaffery's fingers fiddled with bits of grass. "What licks me, my dear," said he, "is how you came to take up with the fellow."

She shrugged her shoulders-it was the full shrug of the un-English child of nature. "I don't know," she said, with her gaze still far away. "He was so funny."

"But he was such a bounder, old lady," said Jaffery, in gentle remonstrance.

"You all said so. But I thought you didn't like him because he was different and could make me laugh. I guess I hated you all very much. You seemed to want me to behave like Euphemia, and I couldn't behave like Euphemia. I tried very hard when you used to take me out to dinner."

Jaffery looked at her comically. But all he said was: "Go on."

"What can I say?"-she shrugged her shoulders again. "With him I hadn't to be on my best behaviour. I could say anything I liked. You all think it dreadful because I know, like everybody else, how children come into the world, and can make jokes about things like that. Emma used to say it was not ladylike-but he-he did not say so. He laughed. His friends used to laugh. With him and his friends, I could, so to speak, take off my stays"-she threw out her hands largely-"ouf!"

"I see," said Jaffery, frowning at his blades of grass.

"But between liking, figuratively, to take off your corsets in a crowd of Bohemians and wanting to marry the worst of them lies a big difference. You must have got fond of the fellow," he added, in a low voice.

I said nothing. It was their affair. I was responsible to Barbara for her safe deliverance and here she was delivered. My attitude, as you can understand, was solely one of kindly curiosity. Liosha, for some moments, also said nothing. Rather feverishly she pulled off her new white gloves and cast them away; and I noticed an all but imperceptible something-something, for want of a better word, like a ripple-sweep through her, faintly shaking her bosom, infinitesimally ruffling her neck and dying away in a flush on her cheek.

"You loved the fellow," said Jaffery, still picking at the grass-blades.

She bent forward, as she sat; hovered over him for a second or two and clutched his shoulder.

"I didn't," she cried. "I didn't." She almost screamed. "I thought you understood. I would have married anybody who would have taken me out of prison. He was going to take me out of prison to places where I could breathe." She fell back onto her heels and beat her breast with both hands. "I was dying for want of air. I was suffocating."

Her intensity caught him. He lumbered to his feet.

"What are you talking about?"

She rose, too, almost with a synchronous movement. An interested spectator, I continued sitting, my hands clasped round my knees.

"The little prison you put me into. I felt this in my throat"-and forgetful of the admirable Mrs. Considine's discipline she mimed her words startlingly-"I was sick-sick-sick to death. You forget, Jaff Chayne, the mountains of Albania."

"Perhaps I did," said he, with his steady eyes fixed on her. "But I remember 'em now. Would you like to go back?"

She put her hands for a few seconds before her face, as though to hide swift visions of slaughtered enemies, then dashed them away. "No. Not now. Not after-No. But mountains, freedom-anything unlike prison. Oh, I've gone mad sometimes. I've wanted to take up a fender and smash things."

"I've felt like that myself," said Jaffery.

"And what have you done?"

"I've broken out of prison and run away."

"That's what I did," said Liosha.

Then Jaffery burst into his great laugh and held her hands and looked at her with kindly, sympathetic mirth in his eyes. And Liosha laughed, too.

"We're both of us savages under our skins, old lady. That's what it comes to."

No more was said of Ras Fendihook. The man's broad, flashy good-humour had caught her fancy; his vagabond life stimulated her imagination of wider horizons; he promised her release from the conventions and restrictions of her artificial existence; she was ready to embark with him, as his wife, into the Unknown; but it was evident that she had not given him the tiniest little scrap of her heart.

"Why didn't you tell me all this long ago?" asked Jaffery.

"I tried to be good to please you-you and Barbara and Hilary, who've been so kind to me."

"It's all this infernal civilisation," he declared. "My dear girl, I'm as much fed up with it as you are; I want to go somewhere and wear beads."

"So do I," said Liosha.

I thought of Barbara's lecture on the whole duty of woman and I chuckled. The attitude in which I was, my hands clasped round my knees, consorted with sardonic merriment. I was checked, however, a moment afterwards, by the sight of my barbarians in the perfect agreement of babyhood calmly walking away from me along the cliff road. I jumped to my feet and pursued them.

"At any rate while you're with me," I panted, "you'll observe the decencies of civilised life."

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